Bad weather hits Indonesia ferry search

Tuesday 13 January 2009 12:30

Driving rain and heavy seas today hindered the hunt for more survivors from an Indonesian ferry that sank off Sulawesi island at the weekend, amid confusion over exactly who was on board, officials said.

The ferry, which had 250 passengers and 17 crew according to the manifest, was travelling from Pare-Pare on the west coast of Sulawesi to Samarinda city on Indonesia's side of Borneo island when it ran into bad weather Sunday.

Since then, there has been little let up in the dreadful weather hampering the search and growing indications that there may have been more people on the vessel than the official tally.

"Until now we have found 35 people, but one of them was dead. They were found around the area where the boat sank," said Taufik Bulu, head of maritime safety in Pare-Pare.

The official said the body of a woman was the first corpse recovered, contradicting an earlier comment by another official Monday that six bodies had been found.

"The wind is strong and right now it has been raining heavily. This is a problem," added Bulu, who said that seven ships had been deployed in the search effort.

Earlier, an official had said that a cargo ship might be carrying seven more survivors to the port of Makassar in Sulawesi, but another official later clarified that the seven were included in the list of 34 survivors.

Local TV footage showed an exhausted looking man being plucked from the sea by a rescue vessel.

One survivor, Muhammad Yusuf, was found by fisherman after clinging to three clusters of bananas for 27 hours in rough seas, the Jakarta Post reported.

Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan also said the weather was impeding the search.

"Today we continued the search, but air surveillance has been delayed, even the plane the transport minister boarded had to return due to bad weather," said Ervan.


Officials have denied that the ten-year-old Teratai Prima ferry was overloaded, but there appeared to be growing confusion over exactly who was on the vessel.

Teddy Sutedjo, director of operations and training at the national search and rescue agency, said the manifest showed 250 names but investigation so far showed that 88 people who were believed to have been on board the ferry were not on the list.

"Maybe there are some people that used somebody else's name to get on board," he said.

Transport Minister Jusman Syafi'i Djamal said Monday that a preliminary investigation showed the ferry capsized on Sunday after it was hit by waves, but there would be an investigation into why the captain set sail despite warnings about bad weather.

After a spate of air and sea disasters in recent years, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed to remedy the situation and Djamal, appointed in 2007, promised a drastic shake-up of the sector with a "roadmap to zero accidents"

Spending has been increased, but the minister admitted on Monday there was some way to go and that in the maritime sector only 40-50 percent of planned improvements were in place.

"There is more to be done. What we haven't done is to establish a harbour master authority, to advise how to manage ports and shipping routes."

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